Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jun 2002
Source: Blade, The (OH)
Copyright: 2002 The Blade
Author: David Yonke, Blade Religion Editor


The U.S. government's war on drugs has been a failure and Americans have a 
moral obligation to try a different approach, such as legalizing marijuana 
and decriminalizing cocaine and heroin, according to the Unitarian 
Universalists Association.

More than 4,100 delegates approved a "Statement of Conscience" at the 
denomination's 41st General Assembly calling for a radical alternative to 
the war on drugs. The four-day convention in Quebec City, Canada, ended 
Monday night.

"We want to do just like Jesus did," said Charles Thomas, executive 
director of Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform. "The people who 
were the most ostracized in society in Jesus' day were lepers. Today's drug 
addicts are modern-day lepers. We feel that, according to our Christian 
heritage, it 's important to follow Jesus."

Among the proposals:

Establish a legal, regulated, and taxed market for marijuana. Treat 
marijuana as we treat alcohol.

Remove criminal penalties for possession and use of currently illegal 
drugs, with drug abusers subject to arrest and imprisonment only if they 
commit an actual crime (e.g. assault, burglary, impaired driving, 
vandalism). End sentencing inequities drive by racial profiling.

Make all drugs legally available with a prescription by a licensed 
physician, subject to professional oversight. End the practice of punishing 
an individual for obtaining, possessing, or using an otherwise illegal 
substance to treat a medical condition and allow medically administered 
drug maintenance as a treatment option for drug addiction.

"We are hopeful that this powerful statement will pave the way for other 
denominations to join the movement for more just and compassionate drug 
policies," Mr. Thomas said.

He said an earlier, more moderate statement calling for alternatives to 
current U.S. drug policies was signed by representatives of the Lutheran, 
Quaker, and United Church of Christ denominations and the National Council 
of Churches.

The Statement of Conscience that was approved last weekend had been debated 
among Unitarian Universalist congregations nationwide before coming to the 
floor of the General Assembly.

The denomination plans to lobby government officials and promote education 
among its members and the general public, Mr. Thomas said.

Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform, based in Takoma Park, Md., 
is an independent affiliate of the UUA. Mr. Thomas said the group studied 
drug policies in other countries and found that Unitarian Universalist 
ideals affirming the inherent worth of every person and a commitment to 
compassion, justice, and equity are found in many of the European nations' 
drug policies.

Mr. Thomas said the U.S. system has led to prisons jammed to capacity, 
rising violent crime, and racial injustices.

He compared the results of U.S. drug policies to the "bad fruit" Jesus 
spoke of in a parable in Matthew 7.

"Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the 
fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

It's time to chop down the tree and plant new ones, Mr. Thomas said. He 
cited Switzerland as an example.

"Heroin addicts who are unable to quit can obtain the drug from medical 
clinics and through doctors' prescriptions instead of dealers on the street 
corners. This has cut down on violent crimes and reduced the risk of 
disease. "And what they've found is that people who go into the medical 
clinics are actually more likely to quit," Mr. Thomas said.

Dr. Lawrence Anderson-Wong, president of the Toledo District of the 
Unitarian Universalists, said he voted in favor of the statement.

"It was not so much the content of what should take the place of the war on 
drugs, but the fact that the war on drugs has been a complete failure. ... 
In part, the purpose of such statements is to raise our own consciences as 
well as get the public's attention."

In other action at the assembly in Quebec, delegates approved amendments 
giving Canadian Unitarians and Universalists independence from the U.S. 
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